The Morgan horse is gentle, multipurpose horse. The Morgan is eager to please and adapt to the requests of the owner. This breed was the first to be documented and developed in the United States. A magnificent and dedicated horse, the Morgan has many versatile qualities, as well as an interesting history that has become equine legend.
The Morgan horse begins, by many accounts, in 1789 when a bay colt was born and obtained by a man named Justin Morgan. Justin Morgan was a horseman, school master and businessman, as well as the Morgan breed’s namesake. Justin Morgan named this small, compact and muscular horse, “Figure.”
Figure was an extraordinarily strong horse. In Figure’s early years and at times throughout his life, he was used as a stud. His offspring all had his remarkable distinctive characteristics of strength, stamina, and temperament.
Figure was best known for his breeding abilities and the passing along of his dominant characteristics. However, Figure could also perform as a racehorse. There are many legendary stories of his life in Vermont where he defeated many well-known racehorses. Some of these stories are true and some are whimsical, but they are the legend of the original Morgan horse.
This horse bred well and was strong and intelligent so it became sought after for breeding purposes. The high demands of “Figure” or “Morgan,” and his versatility as a stud resulted in progeny with special characteristics and appearance: stout, strong, good endurance and bright. The Morgan horse breed of today can be traced back to this one illustrious stallion, Figure.
The Morgan horse of today exhibits a greater refinement, however it has retained the distinctive body conformation, temperament, strength, and stamina.
Morgans were used for a variety of purposes because of their agreeable temperament. However, in the 1840’s, Morgans were used in the sport of harness racing eventually setting world trotting records. Morgans were also used as cavalry mounts in the United States Civil War. The First Vermont Calvary was mounted exclusively on Morgans.
In 1905, through a congressional act, Vermont established a Morgan horse farm with the intention of continuing the Morgan horse breed. A descendent of that farm, managed by the University of Vermont, is still alive today.
Today there are many establishments dedicated to the Morgan horse: National Museum of the Morgan Horse, the American Morgan Horse Association, and the American Morgan Horse Institute. The first Morgan horse registry was established in 1894. Today there are over 179,000 registered Morgan horses.
The modern Morgan horse stands between 1.43 to 1.55 meters or 14.2-15.2 hands high. Morgan horses smaller than 14.2 hands are considered ponies for the purposes of competition.Morgans are also known for small ears fixed on a wide forehead with big gentle eyes. These horses have a long muzzle and expressive nostrils. The body of the Morgan horse is compact with a short back, broad round chest and round croup. The broad head is set on a rounded neck and angled shoulders. The Morgan has a proud posture given these distinctive characteristics.
The most common and the competitively allowed colors of the Morgan are: chestnut, black, bay, brown, palomino, buckskin, smoky black, cremello, perlino, and smoky cream.
The versatile horse has also been used to improve other breeds including: Standardbred, Quarter Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, and the American Saddle Horse.
At Class A shows, Morgans compete in halter, English, western, driving, hunter, trail, carriage, roadster, parade, and reining classes. Performance is worth 60 percent of their total score with conformation accounting for 40 percent.
The first national Morgan Horse competition was held in 1973 in the United States and continues to be held each October in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Additionally there are 10 regional championship shows and numerous official shows. Morgans can also compete in all-breed shows, 4-H shows, and combined driving events.